Tuesday, December 11, 2007

American U Prof Wenthe's graphic novel class

Michael got a press release yesterday. I'd take his course if I could.

Source: American University
Released: Mon 10-Dec-2007, 12:50 ET

Graphic Novels Reach Academia

Newswise — Graphic novels, comic books’ grown up counterpart, have gained popular appeal in the last five years thanks to blockbuster Hollywood movies based on graphic novels like 300, Sin City, Ghost Rider and V for Vendetta. Now they have a place in academia. American University literature professor Michael Wenthe has brought the medium to the Department of Literature with a course titled, "The Graphic Novel."

“This definitely is a time when comics in general, and graphic novels as a species of them, have found a lot more general acceptance,” said Wenthe, who also creates comics along with graduate school friend Isaac Cates. “It would not have been nearly as easy to teach such a course 10 years ago, in part because there’s been an explosion of really good material in the last 10 years, but also because the wider public discourse about comics has gotten a lot more nuanced.”

An expert in medieval literature, Wenthe introduces students to the literary characters in graphic novels that find their roots in medieval literature and even the works of Shakespeare. The class has 13 required books including Jimmy Corrigan—the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, a 380-page exploration of the bleak life of a middle-aged man and his family’s 100-year history of withdrawal and loneliness. Also required are Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, Joe Sacco and Christopher Hitchens’ journalistic Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, Lynda Barry’s award-winning 100 Demons, and the complex City of Glass, written in part by Paul Karasik, who visited the class.

No longer relegated to the ever-ridiculed comic book store, graphic novels delve deeper into the human experience, rarely feature a superhero and are now popping up with regularity in libraries and book stores. Many graphic novels have even garnered major literary prizes, including the American Book Award. Wenthe is not the only academic teaching the virtues of comic books. Wake Forest University Sociologist Saylor Breckenridge has researched the subject, studying the relationship between comic books and popular culture.

Wenthe was trained in medieval literature at Duke, Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. His primary research interest – aside from graphic novels – involves international literature of King Arthur, and his current book project has the working title Arthurian Outsiders: The Dynamic of Difference in the Matter of Britain.

American University (www.american.edu) is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the U.S. and nearly 150 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

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